Attorney-General rubbishes Stephen Opuni’s request
The Attorney-General (A-G) has rubbished some of the requests made by a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, who is on trial for allegedly causing financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state in a series of fertiliser deals.
Lawyers for Dr Opuni had filed a motion asking the Accra High Court to order the A-G’s Department to release documents that the A-G intended to use to prosecute their client.
The motion was premised on Article 19 Clause 2 (e) and (g) of the 1992 Constitution, which relates to fair trials.
Dr Opuni’s legal team are seeking access to about 30 documents, including all prosecution witness statements, witness statements of their client and the second accused person, Seidu Agongo, as well as all documents relating to COCOBOD fertiliser contracts between 2008 and March 2018.
They also want all letters written by their client to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) during his tenure as the CEO of the COCOBOD in relation to permission to sole-source contracts for all fertiliser and all letters written by the PPA in connection to Lithovit Follar Fertiliser (LFF).
However, at Wednesday’s hearing of the case at the High Court, a Deputy A-G, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, described some of the requests for prosecution documents by Dr Opuni’s legal team as “irrelevant” to the case.
Supreme Court to decide
But the relevance or irrelevance of Dr Opuni’s requests, or whether Dr Opuni should be given access to the documents, would now be decided by the Supreme Court when it gives a constitutional interpretation of Article 19 Clause 2 (e) and (g) of the 1992 Constitution.
That was after the High Court, presided over by Mr Justice C.J. Honyenuga, a justice of the Court of Appeal, with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, declined to rule on the motion by Dr Opuni’s lawyers praying for the documents.
According to Mr Justice Honyenuga, ruling on the issue would “undermine the integrity and authority of the Supreme Court”.
“In order for consistency and fairness to prevail, the ruling must be adjourned in order to abide with the decision of the Supreme Court. Indeed, a decision of the Supreme Court will be binding on all lower courts,’’ he said.
Hearing continues on April 30, 2018.
Article 19 Clause 2 (e) and (g) was referred to the Supreme Court for interpretation by another High Court, presided over by Mr Justice Eric Kyei-Baffour, on February 1, 2018.
The referral to the apex court was in reference to the National Communications Authority’s (NCA’s) $4-million case in which five individuals are standing trial for allegedly embezzling the money.
Lead counsel for Dr Opuni, Mr Samuel Cudjoe, had argued that his client needed access to the prosecution documents to enable him to put up a strong defence.
“How is A1 (Opuni) supposed to defend himself without those documents? On a true and proper interpretation of Article 19 Clause 2 (e) and (g), the A-G must provide those documents for us,’’ he argued.
According to counsel, the release of the documents would protect his client’s right to fair trial, as stipulated in Article 19 Clause 2 (e) and (g) of the 1992 Constitution and his fundamental human rights.
“Even in civil proceedings where the personal liberty of an individual is not at stake, there are extensive discoveries and documents are given,’’ he said.
In his response, Mr Dame opposed the motion, describing it as “unfounded” and hinged on “irrelevant consideration’’.
According to him, apart from the request for all letters written by Dr Opuni to the PPA asking for permission to sole-source contracts for fertiliser, all the other requests were irrelevant and “speculative”.
The Deputy A-G argued that it was totally irrelevant for Dr Opuni to request for documents that had nothing to do with the case, or documents generated before or after his tenure as COCOBOD chief.
“The application amounts to shadow boxing. It will be a subversion of Opuni’s rights for him to be furnished with irrelevant materials,” he submitted.
Case against Opuni
Opuni and Agongo were dragged to court in March 2018.
It is the case of the A-G that between 2014 and 2016, Opuni and Agongo allegedly engaged in various illegalities, which resulted in the supply and distribution of substandard fertilisers to cocoa farmers and caused financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state.
The accused persons have pleaded not guilty to a total of 27 charges.
The charges include wilfully causing financial loss to the state, defrauding by false pretence, abetment of crime, money laundering, contravention of the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663) and corruption of a public officer.